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The London Workhouse: A ‘Total Institution’ for the C18th?

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1 The London Workhouse: A ‘Total Institution’ for the C18th?
Context: briefly describe the Pauper Lives project, explain that the data for St. Martin’s comes from them (thanks) Paper intended to be discussion point, rather than presentation of research outcomes any suggestions or extrapolations based on it are mine and do not reflect the views of the project generally or of individual members This paper the result of thinking set in train by the ‘Medicine and the Workhouse’ conference in Birmingham at the beginning of November (under auspices of LS & JPB’s project) What struck me was that, as the study of the poor law and its institutions moves into its ‘third phase’ (1st phase, the Webbs, Dorothy Marshall etc.; 2nd phase, Geoffrey Oxley, Michael Rose, Ann Digby, Felix Driver etc.) the individual subjects of study inevitably appear more and more fractured and isolated. This is reflected in the papers at the conference which stressed, above all else, the diversity of experience in workhouses taking into account location, region, and the demographic profile of the ‘service user’. However, this fracturing was also apparent in the perspectives or angles that the many papers took on the workhouse as an institution: it was variously seen as a centre of contagion and a refuge for the medically excluded (Kevin Siena), a holding-house or point of triage for children in transit to other poor law institutions (Alysa), a refuge (or place of incarceration) for the elderly (Susannah Ottaway), and a maternity hospital (Sam Williams). Of course, it fulfilled all these needs, but it also fulfilled many more (point of transit between jobs, casual lodgings for vagrants, and, yes, even a place of punishment and incarceration). The approach outlined above (fracturing, disaggregating experience) reflects most recent thinking more generally about the poor law among C18th & C19th historians Recognition that in order to begin to reconstruct – or, at least, locate – the pauper experience, we have to take account of the issue of diversity Regional diversity (agenda set by Steve King, and picked up by – among others – Sam Williams’ work on Bedfordshire, Alannah Tomkins’ work on provincial towns (Oxford, Shrewsbury & York)) Diversity of experience (1803 Parliamentary Returns show that nationally only 12-15% of paupers in the provinces were relieved in workhouses, whereas in metropolitan parishes this could be as high as 40%) Diversity within the pauper cohort: life-cycle work on the elderly (Susannah Ottaway & Pat Thane), children (Alysa and Katrina Honeyman), and sickness (King, Digby, Crowther, Boulton, all demonstrate and emphasise that paupers’ experience of the poor law could be – and was – very different depending on personal circumstance and individual need Struck me that, while a necessary corrective to the homogenising institutional histories of the 70s and 80s, this approach misses something absolutely essential when we’re thinking about the C18th London workhouse But while it is (of course) essential to disaggregate the pauper cohort experience in order to describe individual and shared experiences, almost uniquely among early-modern institutions, in the workhouse none of these experiences (of the elderly, of the sick, of children and single mothers, or of the able bodied, whether men or women) took place in isolation In other words, the workhouse also needs also to be studied as a ‘total institution’ because in one sense that is precisely what it was: all of these workhouse experiences were, at all times, shared with all the others to an extent – and in the sense that the elderly rubbed shoulders with pregnant mothers, and young children shared the workhouse space with the sick and dying, it was precisely a representation of the early-modern ‘family’, just as many workhouse masters and vestrymen were anxious to persuade themselves (and us) that it was by their use of that term to describe the workhouse community overall So this is one sense in which I want to emphasise that the metropolitan workhouse was a ‘total institution’ Peter Jones

2 Defining the ‘Total Institution’
P. O’Brien, The Promise of Punishment: Prisons in C19th France (1982) Sean McConville, A History of English Prison Administration (1981) Andrew Scull, Museums of Madness: the Social History of Insanity in C19th England (1981) M. A. Crowther, The Workhouse System (1981), ‘…any attempt to reconstruct workhouse life must be a patchwork, selected from the letters and reminiscences of the literate poor, or gleaned from middle class accounts’ – Crowther, p.193 Having said that, this is clearly a very different usage of the term than that put forward by the father of the concept, Erving Goffman Goffman’s ‘total institution’ had direct parallels with Foucault’s descriptions of institutionalised control, exemplified in Madness and Civilization and Discipline and Punish …and Goffman proposed that the defining characteristic of a whole range of closed institutions – asylums, prisons, reformatories, schools etc. – was their punitive, disciplinary and incarcerating functions For Foucault (implicitly) and Goffman (explicitly) the ‘total institution’ was a place of social control, depersonalization and mortification Following Goffman, the term ‘total institution’ seemed to have had a special resonance for social historians of particular institutions of the poor in the 1970s and 80s [examples] Crucially, though, Anne Crowther found great resonance in the concept in her description of the new poor law workhouse Using Goffman’s framework, she details the depersonalizing effect of so-called ‘entrance rituals’ and the use of uniform clothing, and describes the work undertaken by inmates as being ‘penal’ in character [p] But from my point of view, it is also interesting that Crowther owns up to the fact that her history is necessarily a partial one, because (she says) ‘any attempt to reconstruct workhouse life must be a patchwork, selected from the letters and reminiscences of the literate poor, or gleaned from middle class accounts’ And this leads to an inevitable tension in her work, because she implicitly acknowledges that [p] the image of the workhouse as a penal institution is axiomatic, that is self-defining, given (as she says) that so far (in 1981, at least) historians had relied for their vision of it on ‘outsiders [among whom we can include her literate poor], who usually condemned it either for harshness or laxity’ […] The purpose of this paper, then, is to demonstrate that there is another, much more comprehensive and (in many ways) authentic way of reconstructing the workhouse as an institution, and the experiences of paupers within it; and that using this methodology, we may be able to may point to the C18th London workhouse as a ‘total institution’ of a slightly different kind to that suggested by Goffman’s definition of the term ‘[The image of the workhouse] has been created by outsiders, who usually condemned it either for harshness or laxity’ – ibid.

3 The C18th London Workhouse
c1800: 50 workhouses in the London metropolitan area Diverse institutions: between 10 and 1,000 inmates Diversity of experience: between 89% and 19% of parish poor relieved indoors In total, almost 12,000 of London’s inhabitants resident in workhouses in 1801 [Handout] The first thing to note the sheer scale of the London workhouse experience in the C18th Unlike the rest of the country, paupers in London had something like a 40% chance of being relieved in a workhouse This meant that anywhere between 1% and 3% of London parish populations could find themselves in a workhouse at any one time – in 1801, this meant that the aggregate number of Londoners in workhouses was almost 12,000 This is all relatively well known – one might say commonplace, even – but in the case of the London workhouse, it may be fair to suggest that familiarity brings a degree of contempt Because sometimes, I think, it is easy to overlook the scale of these institutions at a time when, of course, there were relatively few in Europe: at various points in the C18th, up to a third of London workhouses (around 17) contained more than 300 inhabitants, and a fifth contained more than 500 Though these figures can’t rival some of the great European hospitals of the time – such as the Vienna Allgemeines Krankenhuas, which was rebuilt in 1784 to house 1,600 patients – they were formidable simply in terms of sheer size Of course, once again it is always important to acknowledge the diversity of experience of those who came into contact with them On the one hand, London workhouses under the OPL ranged in capacity from 10 to 1,000 inmates Within the overall picture of workhouse admission, the range of figures for those relieved inside the workhouse (as a % of the all paupers relieved) is also great: from 19% (St. Luke, Chelsea) and 89% (St. Matthew, Bethnal Green) in 1803 Nonetheless, both in terms of size and influence among the general population, I want to emphasise that some of these institutions, qua institutions, were among the most important in Europe in the early modern period And again, just as importantly, contemporaries did not encounter them as places of disaggregated experience, an amalgam of many functions, but as buildings and populations that represented a heterogeneous but coherent whole And so, by way of illustration…

4 The Project Jeremy Boulton, Leonard Schwarz, John Black
…I want to look at the single workhouse of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster As I have already said, the data I’ll be relying on was collected as part of the Westminster Pauper Lives project This project aims to reconstruct the pauper biographies of around 50,000 individuals from the extraordinarily rich parish records for St. Martin’s However, my intention here is to use just one small part of the data – from the workhouse admissions and discharge registers – to explore the institutional experience of paupers The remainder of the talk will take the form of a whistle stop tour of the workhouse and its residents: Located in the centre of the parish, just south of Leicester Fields Currently on the site of the National Gallery; only remaining relic is some of the internal fabric of the National Portrait Gallery Unfortunately, no images of the C18th workhouse, but we do have this plan from 1871 We know that in the C18th it was highly differentiated internally, with a number of wards dedicated to the care of the elderly, children, nursing mothers, and the sick The Workhouse in 1871

5 Admission and Residency
Moving on to the profile overall… Overall, there were over 100,000 admissions during the period (with a break between 1729 & 1737) This represents around 56,000 individuals who came in contact with the workhouse Workhouse significantly expanded between 1774 and 1780 – capacity doubled from around 400 to around 700 – and separate ‘schools’ were established for boys and girls Unsurprisingly, total number of inmates in house shadows the number of admissions Admissions per year varied significantly, from less than 600 in 1760 to around 1,600 in Number of residents varied from around 400 to around 600 Just under 90% of those admitted stayed less than one year, and around 40% stayed less than one month Figures are fairly concurrent, but women tended to outnumber men among those who stayed between a month and a year. Men outnumbered women amongst long stayers and short stayers. In absolute terms, of course, women outnumbered men in every category, since more than twice as many women were admitted into the workhouse as men

6 Pregnancy and Birth 1,376 women heavily pregnant or in labour at admission Over 4,000 children born and baptised At least 1376 women were heavily pregnant or actually in labour when admitted over the whole period, (approx 1.3% of all admissions) Over 4000 children were born or baptized in the workhouse [Chart 1] : births per year in WH varied greatly, from around 70 to over 200 The general rise between 1760 and 1780 makes one wonder about the re-build: was it something to do with targeting pregnant women – part of the deserving poor? Possibly, by the rise in the admission of pregnant women very much shadows the rise in admissions overall, so perhaps not… Number of illegitimate pregnancies admitted does not follow number of pregnant admissions overall – very few before 1760 (Great reception?), a lot for the 10 years thereafter (because of the loss of the great reception?), but then generally subdued until around 1800 (reflect something to do with the re-build in 1770s; a shift in workhouse admissions policy?) [Chart 2]Neo-natal deaths generally represent a declining percentage of all births in the workhouse The figures for deaths within 24 hours remain relatively stable (at around 2-4%), but deaths within a week drop sharply from 16% to around 6% between 1740 and 1760, and then remain relatively stable until the early years of the new century The drop in deaths within 7 days straddles a period of both falling and rising numbers of births in the workhouse, so not easy to explain

7 Early Childhood 11,155 children <7 admitted
73% admitted with family member 2,230 died in the workhouse 20% within 14 days 91% within a year 1,188 were sent to nurse 206 bound apprentice In total, 11,155 children under 7 were admitted to the workhouse Most (73%) were admitted with a family member 1,970 (17.5%) died in the workhouse, the vast majority within a year of admission [Charts] Length of stay for the under-7s was considerably less than for the workhouse cohort as a whole, but most of this is probably accounted for by death, being sent to nurse [Hanway’s Acts, 1760s] and apprenticeship

8 Adolescence 7,515 children aged 7-14 admitted
Destination of Children (7-14yrs) Apprenticed Outside London County Number of Apprentices Manchester 141 Lancashire 40 Flintshire 34 Hertfordshire 32 Sheffield 29 Staffordshire 21 Yorkshire 16 Cheshire 10 Nottinghamshire 8 Derbyshire Jamaica 5 Kent 4 Essex 3 Worcestershire 2 Durham Monmouth 1 Huntingdonshire Hampshire Cumberland Berkshire 7,515 children aged 7-14 admitted 3,376 (44.5%) entered with another family member 270 (3.5%) died in the workhouse 2,316 (30.5%) either bound apprentice or sent ‘on likeing’ 80% apprenticed in London 20% further afield 50 sent to Hungerford School 8 boys sent to sea …mentioned it would be a whistle stop tour; wasn’t kidding! In total, 7,515 admissions between ages 7 and 14 years Of these, 3,376 (44.5%) entered with another family member or members 270 (3.5%) died in the workhouse 2,302 (30.5%) are either bound apprentice, or sent ‘on likeing’ Of these 2,302, we know the destination of 1,803 Of these 1,803: 1,443 (80%) were apprenticed within London and Middlesex 360 (20%) apprenticed further afield – almost exclusively between 1782 and 1815 [table] So in other words, parish apprenticeship was by far the single most significant destination for this age group upon leaving the workhouse

9 Early Adulthood Women admitted to the workhouse aged 20-40
Constitute 80% of all admissions in this age range 70.5% of all women admitted aged years are ‘single independents’ Average length of stay = 111 days (216 for all admissions) One thing we have already noted, but taken little account of, is the workhouse as a feminine institution Across the whole period, female admissions constitute over two thirds (68.5%) of all admissions Among adults (14 and above) the figure is even higher: women constitute three quarters 75% of all adult admissions Considering paupers in early adulthood, the gender issue becomes even more acute: 80% of all those admitted between the ages of 20 and 40 years are women 70.5% of all women admitted in this age group are single independents, in other words they are admitted without another family member and not pregnant Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, this group – single, non-pregnant, working age women – form the single largest group of all admissions In addition, their average length of stay in the workhouse is also much lower than for workhouse admissions overall (111 days as opposed to 216 days) Tempting to suggest, given the nature of the employment market in London – and in particular Westminster – that young single women are using the workhouse as a form of lodgings between periods of domestic service or short-term work

10 Old Age 11,023 Over-60s Admitted 36.5% died in workhouse
Average length of stay = 431 days Rather unsurprisingly, of the 11,023 admissions of men and women aged 60 and over, a large proportion (36.5%) of them died in the workhouse (as opposed to 17.5% of admissions overall) Just as predictably, those admitted over the age of 60 had an average length of stay in the workhouse of 431 days (as opposed to 216 days for all admissions, and 111 days for women aged years) [chart] – oldest inmates stayed, in general, much longer than the youngest, and also younger than admitted inmates overall Won’t say too much about old age in the workhouse: redirect you to the pauper lives website; follow the link to recent presentations, and the 2007 Social History Conference presentation on The Elderly & the Workhouse in the C18th

11 Sickness Unfortunately, we don’t have a great deal of data relating to sickness in the workhouse registers There are very few entries which tell us precisely why a pauper was admitted, and although it is possible to extrapolate reasons for admission from the other data given (pregnancy, lone infant, old age) it is difficult to know precisely what proportion of paupers were admitted mainly or partly because of sickness and ill-health Elsewhere, however (in the Churchwardens’ and Overseers’ Minutes, for example) there is quite a lot of anecdotal and incidental evidence to demonstrate that the workhouse is becoming an increasingly medicalised institution over time For example, we know that by the time of the rebuilding of the workhouse (1774) a trained midwife, an apothecary, a specialist occulist and a surgeon are being employed to service the parish poor We also know that by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the parish surgeon is being paid £80 p/a for his services (out of which he has to find most of his medicines) The medical function of the workhouse overall is probably reflected in the low numbers of discharges to medical institutions (hospitals, madhouses, infirmaries and, in the early C19th, the Sea Bathing Infirmary at Margate, to which, by 1816, the parish is subscribing £16 a year for the use of two beds The chart, though, suggests that it had always, to an extent, been a highly medicalised institution, as so few inmates (between 0 and 2%) are shown as having been discharged to other medical institutions (private mad house, hospital, infirmary etc.) – in other words, it is difficult not to imagine that most of the sick, ill and dying in the workhouse either recovered or died there, whether in receipt of treatment or not, without moving on to other specialist institutions

12 Death And finally, on to death…
It is possible, by cheating ever so slightly and linking up with the data from the second phase of the Westminster Pauper Lives Project, to discover quite a lot about deaths in the workhouse too In total, between 1725 and 1824, there were around 18,000 deaths in the workhouse (remember: this is from approximately 56,000 individuals) The Sexton’s records for St. Martin-in-the-Fields fortunately gives us, not only where a corpse came from for burial, but the cause of death as well From this data, we can see that not only was death a hugely important part of life in the workhouse; workhouse deaths were, for some specific demographic groups, incredibly important in the wider context of the parish, too For example, ‘Aged’ deaths from the workhouse account for more than a third of all parish deaths from old age Workhouse deaths from dropsy, too, account for nearly 30% of all parish deaths in this category, and those from gripes and ‘fever’ account for a quarter of all parish deaths from these disorders [check gripe: grippe?] Finally, the workhouse witnessed more than 10% of all parish still births, and a fifth of all those who died from consumption and asthma (pulmonary diseases) died in the workhouse

13 To Conclude… Ann Ashton, admitted November 1765, ‘her husband paying 2s. 6d. for her keep’ Jane Graham, admitted October 1800, ‘on condition that he husband pays 5s. per week’ Charlotte Sowley, admitted June 1795, aged 9, ‘her father paying 3s. a week’ ‘…any attempt to reconstruct workhouse life must be a patchwork, selected from the letters and reminiscences of the literate poor, or gleaned from middle-class accounts…’ - Crowther, p.193 So to conclude… As I’ve already said, this is a clearly a whistle stop tour of the London workhouse and its inmates in the C18th: it is neither intended to be, nor is it in practice, remotely conclusive But what we have seen is that not only was death a major part of the workhouse experience, the workhouse as an institution fulfilled a variety of roles throughout the life-cycle: It was an effective nursery, a lying-in hospital, a lodging house for young women and a refuge for the elderly too It had many other functions we haven’t had time to look into: families stayed here in their entirety; sons and daughters returned, sometimes together, sometimes alone when families were unable to stay together; vagrants came in and out of the institution for a night’s respite, or because they were ordered there, very much as George Orwell recorded in the new poor law workhouse 150 years later; finally, the workhouse even had some paying guests – which may cause us to challenge Goffman’s vision of the ‘total institution’: Ann Ashton, admitted 7th November 1765 without a settlement in the parish, on condition that her husband pay 2s. 6d. for her keep (discharged 2nd December) Jane Graham admitted October 1800, her husband paying 5s. Per week (discharged after 2 ½ months) Charlotte Sowley, admitted June 1795 aged 9 years, her father paying 3s. a week (sent to nurse after 3 weeks) As I said at the beginning, the workhouse was not simply an amalgamation of discrete functions as it may even appear to have been in this kind of profile: it fulfilled all these functions side-by-side Although it appears from the admissions data that they were, to an extent, segregated by wards, there is no sense that this segregation was rigidly enforced, and this is reinforced by anecdotal evidence in the Churchwardens’ & Overseers’ Minutes There are, for example, complaints to the vestry of the de-moralising impact of the children being in close contact with the adults, and certain places – for example the hair-cutting shed – appear to have particular been sites where they could be exposed to blasphemy and profanity It is in this sense that I want to emphasise the C18th London workhouse as a ‘total institution’: Back at the beginning of the talk, I quoted this from Anne Crowther, written in 1981 [P: quote] What I hope I have demonstrated is that this is no longer the case: given that we now have the capacity to gather and organise huge quantities of data with relative ease, it is, for the first time, realistically possible to reconstruct the workhouse as an institution, and the experience of its inhabitants in the C18th

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